Patty Smith
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Aug
14

Dear Blog,

It’s finally my turn to write the Daily Diary. And I’ve had the good fortune to be assigned the day we went to Utrecht, our last scheduled day of adventuring. Hoorah!

We began with the familiar 8:30 meet up and scenic route to Amsterdam Centraal, which is always a brilliant way to start the day. The 9:08 train took us to Utrecht Centraal, and then we bussed over to De Uithof, the campus of Universiteit Utrecht. Rob introduced the campus to us as a laboratory for urban planning and landscape architecture that includes buildings designed by the office of our new best friend, Rem Koolhaas.

We met up with our tour guide, Sabi, a student of architecture at the world renowned Delft University. The first stop on our campus tour was the top of a dormitory nicknamed the confetti building for its multicolored panels, which represent diversity. We got nervous when the building was locked, but then some students walked out and we snagged the door like ninjas. Our giant group crammed into two narrow elevators, and we headed straight to the roof. The top of the building was enclosed by green walls lined with windows from which we could see the entire campus. Giving the roof walls had a weird sheltering effect, as if we were in a courtyard. Sabi explained that buildings on campus are tall so that the polder landscape would remain undisturbed. I guess if you can’t have a real courtyard, converting the roof is the next best thing. There’s something to be said for real roofs, though. They’re dangerous and off-limits and exciting. Weren’t we all excited when we discovered the roof of the dorms? Even though it is also kind of a courtyard roof. At least it’s not accessible by elevator.

Sabi gave us a brief history of De Uithof. In the sixties, Utrecht University acquired the land and assigned J.A.C. van der Steur to create a master plan for its layout. A North-South grid design was implemented, with the trees and water running on a diagonal axis through the buildings. In the early nineties, it was decided that everything and everyone should be located on campus, which demanded the construction of student housing. One solution was the next stop on our tour–the space boxes.

Space boxes are prefabricated living units that can stack together into little complexes. Sabi told us that friends of hers used to live in the space boxes, and they were very unpleasant. It felt as though the walls were closing in on you when you were trying to study. I wouldn’t want to live in one… they seem utterly charmless.

Next up was the economy building, which is part of the Kasbah zone. The original open space of the area is supposed to be maintained in the Kasbah zone, so collective space is allowed only within buildings. The exteriors, then, are very boring. Grass is grown on the roofs, and patios are located indoors. The econ building is home to the zen patio, the jungle patio, and the water patio. My favorite was the jungle patio. I liked how the greenery was allowed to take over the walkway. The water patio was also interesting. The water reflected the building, and the patio was built at an angle that opens up to the scenic landscape on the other side of the hallway.

Outside, we saw a caged, platformed basketball court. It is one of two basketball courts I’ve seen in the Netherlands so far, which is notable given that I’m spending my month here studying recreation. Underneath the translucent floor of the baketball court is a bookstore and a bar. Have you ever been playing basketball and then all the sudden you get this urge to be drunk and learning? Because that happens to me like every day.

Across the street from the basketball court is the library. The architect who designed the building used all sorts of tricks to comply with the Kasbah zone’s boring-outside rule. He covered the shiny, black exterior of the library in a cool bamboo pattern, and he put its grand staircase inside. Everything in the library is black and white, which is supposed to influence how people experience the space. The black ceiling and walls make the library feel smaller, and the white floors make it seem huge when looked down upon from the top level. The building was designed with such precision that the spacing of the bookshelves matches up perfectly with the windows. Also, the architect believed that the library should be a place to talk and meet people. He fell in love at a library, is how the story goes. So the footbridge attaching it to the Educatorium is littered with couches.

The Educatorium, a student center filled with examination rooms and lecture halls, is a unique building with a concrete floor that curves over to become the roof. We explored the wooden curve of the floor/roof and then it was time for lunch. We were all starving and ready to eat, but we didn’t have pincards to pay with at the cafeteria. The staff almost left us to starve, but Clifford was able to persuade them to take cash. Saved!

After lunch at the Educatorium we walked to the Schroder House, the only true De Stijl building. The idea behind De Stijl architecture is an emphasis on construction and a lack of decoration. The face of the building was evocative of famous Mondrian paintings, with thick black lines and blocks of primary colors. We were split into two groups, and my group got to go on the tour first. Our guide was a man named Edgar. He wore gloves inside, so as not to damage anything, and we all put surgery booties on to protect the floors. In the entry, we saw a fuse box and a telephone, both of which were luxuries in the 1920’s when the house was constructed. Mrs. Schroder was a wealthy eccentric, it seemed.
The best part of the house was the top floor. It was a puzzle of sliding and folding walls. Edgar turned the open space into four different rooms and folded away the bathroom with practiced ease. It was very surreal. The Schroder house was certainly worth visiting, but I’m a bit surprised that it is treated as such a significant monument. Maybe I would be more impressed by it if I knew more about the De Stijl movement.

While the other group toured the house, we watched a film about Gerrit Rietveld, Mrs. Schroder, and the history of the house. After we were reunited with our classmates, we all walked to a bus stop where we were faced with a choice. Should we go home, or should we stay and explore Utrecht? Many of us decided to stay and we had a fun adventure kayaking in the canals. My camera, desperate to go for a swim, capsized my kayak and drenched itself in canal water. THAT’S GREAT! I’ve buried it in a grave of rice and am hopeful it will be resurrected.

Thank you so much for an awesome day, guys.

Here is a video I made:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXLr3WvWsm0

Jul
21

Elisa and I are continuing to develop our research project on parks. At the end of spring quarter, we had decided we wanted to look at what purposes parks serve in Amsterdam and how parks satisfy the expectations of people in the city.

New issues to consider:

Environmental damage/protection

  • water management and maintenance
  • ecological survey of green areas (invasive species, monoculture, pest control)
  • do parks promote stewardship?

Illicit uses of the park

Research methods to focus on in the next few weeks

  • Interview public service person
  • Interview park management representative
  • Interview park business owners
  • Visual observation
  • Interview park-goers

Elisa and I made our way to Vondelpark yesterday to scope out our main field research site. Here are some initial observations we made on our walk:

  • wide paved path for biking and running
  • smaller side paths covered by foliage
  • grassy areas for picnicking and games
  • statues, ponds, fountains
  • facilities include an amphitheater, a wading pool, restaurants, and a film museum
  • no official facilities for sports (basketball courts, soccer fields…)

We will keep updating as we make progress on our project.

Jun
08

The Association of Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Social Class in Outdoor Recreation Experiences
Donald A. Rodriguez, Nina S. Roberts
http://www.nature.nps.gov.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/socialscience/pdf/Rodriguez_Roberts_Rep.pdf

Understanding concepts of place in recreation research and management
Linda Everett Kruger…
http://www.fs.fed.us.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr744.pdf

Andres Sternheim and the study of leisure in the early critical theory, Beckers, Theo

Meanings of recreation and leisure among adolescents, Mobily, Kenneth

Jun
04

Revised question: How does the city of Amsterdam provide space for recreation, and how does that space influence and inform us as to the nature of recreation?

New ideas for research methods:

Looking online for blogs/articles about peoples experiences at different parks in Amsterdam.

Examining how tourists choose to travel through Amsterdam (they’re usually seeking out recreation).

Speaking to a public service person about how parks are used

Jun
04

Hey guys

Based on your presentation and your recent blog posts, it looks like you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re looking to study. I was impressed by how much you already knew about public housing and I noticed that you’re still bulking up on background information by checking out journal articles. Good idea!

After your presentation at the meeting, one response I had was that you should better define the interactions you’ll observe as field research. Your project might be a little trickier than others because you’re looking at relationships between residents, and not just activities. What you’re researching is a bit more intimate than, say, what people do in a park, on a bike, or in front of a screen. In addition to looking at interpersonal interactions, it could be helpful to generate ideas for specific activities to observe that have more to do with direct interaction with the space, rather than with other people. A good example you mentioned was foot traffic through areas of interest. This type of data could help answer how the social atmosphere is changed by the space, and not just what the social atmosphere is.

I like that you’re going to go study private housing, also. By comparing the two situations, you’ll be able to zero in on what makes public housing unique. And you can look at the commonalities between the two and determine whether any ubiquitous social attitudes dictate the design of public housing.

You guys are off to a great start, good luck!

May
22

How does the city of Amsterdam provide space for recreation, and how does that space define and inform us as to the nature of recreation in Dutch culture?

Preliminary research

Maps

  • Historical development
  • Size
  • Proximity to city

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Old_maps_of_Amsterdam

Major Parks

Field Research

  • Communities and organizations responsible for maintenance/ownership
  • How parks are used
  • “romantic” vs “functionalist”
  • Definition of recreational public space
  • Comparison to other European cities and Seattle
  • Other types of public space used for recreation (special events, sports fields)

Research Methods

  • Visual interrogation
  • Survey
  • Anecdotal
  • Official documentation on space and money allocated

Research ethics

May
18

This past weekend marked the launch of festival season in Seattle. As an exercise to practice our research techniques in urban space, Lisa and I set out to study the University Street Fair.

As we walked from campus to the south entrance of the fair, which runs from NE Campus Parkway up to 50th, we discussed what kinds of details we’d try to be alert to. I had mentioned in my discussion board post that I wanted to study how the city of Amsterdam provides space for recreation, and how that space defines and informs us as to the nature of recreational experiences. This idea originated when I was looking at photographs taken at the mudbowl and noticed that where forest or empty fields surround other schools’ rugby pitches, ours is surrounded by traffic and shops. That Seattle makes space in the middle of urban commercial space for parks and sports fields speaks to a distinctly Seattleite attitude of appreciation toward recreational activity. Lisa was an obvious choice to work with because she’s interested in studying environmental norms. There is a considerable amount of overlap in space allocated to environmental conservation and space used for recreation. We hope to study the relationship between the two topics and what that relationship means about both individually.

So ANYWAY. The first thing we encountered when we began to explore the fair was a man in a mini-kilt laying out mats in front of a stage. He asked us to step around him, as he was constructing a dance floor. This was clear evidence of a conversion of public space for recreational use. We weren’t able to stay and observe the actual dancing, but I imagine to myself that the crowd mostly stood and watched a few over-enthusiastic participants.. possibly including the rainbow scarf man (we saw him further down the Ave).

We stopped to watch a few street performers. One performer had four audience members recline on each other’s bellies, forming a square, with their knees bent at a ninety degree angle such that they were balanced on their feet. Then he stood between them and juggled knives (Ha ha!). One of the four guys wriggled out of the arrangement and ran for freedom.

So most fair-goers aren’t dancing or allowing knives to be juggled over them. The vast majority of us were slowly making our way down the street, stopping to buy fair food and smell organic scented candles made of vegetal wax at one of the many stalls that line the streets. Signposts at each intersection directed people to food courts, restrooms, and information booths. More and more, the street fair begins to resemble a mall. The online map shows that the fair is overwhelmingly populated by crafts and food vendors, with community info booths hidden on Brooklyn. These observations evidence an obsession with consumerism. Why do we have a street fair? Mostly because we want to pay five dollars for an elephant ear.

As we begin to develop and finesse our project, we can do preliminary research online by looking up maps and legal documents. When we get to Amsterdam, we survey people’s attitudes toward recreation, and discover how they define it. We can observe how public space is utilized for these purposes.

Apr
30

The very first thing I did in approaching this assignment was input “urban space blog” into the Google machine. The second thing I did was click on the top link, which brought me to Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, a green blog with a narrow column of dense text centered on the page. I gave the page a brief scan before deciding that the pictures and text were too small for easy browsing. Also, upon further inspection, I found that the blog was largely about public policy. Blog posts about taxes and business classifications are directly at odds with my interpretation of “play.” So I quit that and turned instead to its list of links. I chose the blog link with the most “play”-ful sounding title, Bird to the North.

Bird to the North was much easier to look at. The pictures were bigger, so as I scrolled down the page I could easily become engaged with a particular post without reading through all the titles. However once I was hooked by a picture, there was often very little text to accompany it. I scrolled through about a years worth of posts without actually learning anything. So once again I looked through the list of links. This time I clicked a winner.

The Polis Blog has the same layout as all of our blogs and the blogs I went through to get there. Blog posts are on the left and in chronological order, and links alphabetized in a column on the right. This structure is standard because now we’re all adept at navigating through a website set up like that. The author of Polis Blog writes each blog post as an article. Each post has a distinct topic, a catchy title, and an eye catching image. In many articles, the author directly references social norms regarding space. For instance, on the first page of the blog, he writes “The founding gurus of urban space were so obsessed with cleanliness and order and the ‘right’ people that they left us with a million rules about who can do what where without dealing with the structural absurdities that leave some many spaces dead and truly alive spaces threatened with erasure (after all, they are illegal!).” As for play.. this blog is really well written and a delight to read. As I was playing in the blogosphere I ignored blogs that were too ugly or too boring, even if they might have been a great source of information. I recommend this blog to anyone still looking for a research topic.

Apr
06

This image stood out to me because I have a secret desire to live on a house boat and kayak to work. Upon further inspection, though, this picture reveals more about the people who live in these apartments than just their mode of transportation. Judging by the discontinuity of appearance of the exterior of what otherwise would seem like a single building, we can see that this is actually a collection of buildings pushed close together. And these apartments are pushed right up to the edge of the water, without any type of ledge or sidewalk. No towers or skyscrapers are visible above the exactly even roofs of these apartments, which seem to continue along the waterfront forever. The trees on top of one roof evidence a similar lack of space behind the buildings. Is it the case that these homes are built along the water, not because people like me want to kayak to work, but because there isn’t enough space to build further back? Why would this community choose to sprawl outwards, pressing up against its geographic limits, instead of upwards?

This picture was striking to me because of the lack of cars. There are plenty of pedestrians and bicyclists, and if you look closely at the side of the streetcar, you can see that it promotes bicycling. All these details indicate a cultural independence from cars. This could, in turn, mean that there are no suburbs to commute from, and that most people live in apartments like those above the store bodysox, which I like to imagine sells literally only body socks. I wonder if this area has historically always been car-free, or if this square has been paved with brick recently to exclude cars in an effort to appear “green.” The brick ground continues down the street, and I’m curious as to how far this area extends. Does it encompass a large part of downtown, or just a small public square? Is this attitude towards transportation common, or do only certain sections of the population resort to public transportation?